Increasing Young Women’s Empowerment in the Bronx

Advancing Leaders Fellow Nya Holder creates a program fostering self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a sense of agency among at -risk teens

Nya Holder’s family from the Caribbean taught her that with each new opportunity comes a responsibility to improve the lives of those around her.

It’s a message she’s taken to heart.

The proud Bronx, NY native recently finished her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Yale University while pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Health and Health Care Management.

Now the first-generation American is determined to use her academic opportunities and professional experience to support young women in the community where she grew up.

Holder is one of six talented World Learning alumni awarded the 2016 Advancing Leaders Fellowship, which funds social entrepreneurship projects around the globe. The winners represented a broad range of World Learning programs. Each fellow received financial support and a mentor to help them implement their community project.

Holder’s project offered empowerment workshops in the Bronx called BE ART, which stands for “By Empowering Awareness and Respect I Transform.” It introduces mindfulness practices and creative self-expression to help young women better navigate the high-pressure environment of high school.

She is an alumna of World Learning’s International Honors Program (IHP), which compared health systems in New Orleans, Hanoi, Cape Town, and Buenos Aires.

That international experience had a big impact on her and planted the seeds for her Advancing Leaders Fellowship project.

“In exploring health in these different contexts, I learned that there was one fundamental need that we all want, and that is to feel valued and accepted, whether that’s in a health care setting or at home,” Holder explains.

She says it made her realize there was something missing in her own community.

“There is a high prevalence of physical violence, especially amongst young women in high school, who are in need of a safe space to discuss challenging issues around self-esteem and emotional wellness,” she says.

Holder used art and mindfulness as vehicles to cultivate awareness and emotional intelligence. Program activities consisted of journaling, yoga and dance to talk about positive body image, and discussions about self-love and self-care.

In total, Be ART engaged 50 students. Participants were chosen by anonymous student nominations from school administrators, guidance counselors, and teachers. Priority was given to female students with prior disciplinary action as well as young women with a history of engaging in risky behaviors.

“We hope that each young woman will be able to see herself as a wonderfully unique work of art, a masterpiece worthy of love, appreciation, and respect, who empowers others to feel the same,” Holder adds.